Toxic emotions

Since the late 1960s, Western psychotherapists working with people suffering from serious, even life-threatening, illnesses have acknowledged the power of emotions as a contribution to the disease process. Since the 1970s, research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology has documented direct links between emotions and biochemical events in the body, thereby establishing on a scientific basis what folk healers have always known: emotions can manifest themselves as physical symptoms.

Noted women's health expert Christiane Northrup, of Yarmouth, Maine, coined the term 'toxic emotions' to indicate the powerful, strongly held and often unconsciously active beliefs and emotions that help generate symptoms that keep illnesses in place.

Dr Northrup explains that if we fail to work through our emotional distress (which includes damaging beliefs and strong, unexpressed emotions), we set the body up for physical distress. Our personal histories are 'lodged and stored' throughout the body, in the muscles, organs and tissues. That is why, in the view of Dr Northrup as well as other alternative practitioners, beliefs and emotions can be legitimate toxins contributing to an overall weakening of the immune system.

The subconscious lack of self-esteem can be the most dangerous of all toxic emotions. It can prevent therapy from being effective. Some of the worst emotional stresses contributing to cancer involve events (such as incest or childhood sexual abuse) that the cancer patient experienced as a child and that are 'remembered' only at the subconscious level. Many patients cannot recover until these memories are discovered and treated.

At least three studies offer compelling evidence validating the role of repressed emotions in cancer. In each study, people were followed to determine their rates of disease in relation to various behaviours. Emotional repression may also influence one's survival and prevent patients from dealing with the diagnosis.

In a controlled study of women with breast lumps, women who had more difficulty expressing anger were more likely to have malignancies at breast biopsy. In contrast, women who vented their anger were less likely to have lesions (Science News, 1996; 149: 15).

In the 1960s, psychotherapist Ronald Grossarth-Maticek gave questionnaires to 1353 inhabitants of Cryvenka, Yugoslavia. After following the subjects for a decade, Grossarth-Maticek concluded that nine out of every 10 cases of cancer could be predicted on the basis of 'an overly rational, anti-emotional attitude' and a tendency to ignore signs of poor health (Social Science and Medicine, 1982; 16: 493-8).

Patrick Dattore and colleagues followed 200 disease-free individuals for 10 years and compared the psychological tests of 75 veterans who eventually got cancer with the 125 who remained cancer-free. Contrary to expectations, those who developed cancer appeared less depressed than the others. However, these same individuals were also more likely to suppress their more intense feelings. Again, those who expressed their feelings were less likely to develop cancer (J Counsel Clin Psych, 1980; 48: 388-94).

The longest study to date, initiated in 1946, focused on students from the John Hopkins School of Medicine. Pirkko Graves and her colleagues followed 972 students over three decades. 'Loners' who suppressed their emotions beneath a bland exterior were 16 times more likely to develop cancer than those who gave vent to their feelings. In an earlier report, based on 1337 students, cancer death rates correlated significantly with a lack of closeness with parents (J Behav Med, 1987; 10: 441-8).

A strong sense of hopelessness is now ranked as a serious contributing factor in cancer and heart disease cases and deaths. A study of 2428 Finnish men, aged 42-60, revealed that those with moderate-to-high hopelessness (based on answers to a questionnaire) died at a rate two to three times higher than those who did not feel hopeless (Science News, 1996; 149:15).

Preliminary studies of biofeedback, meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and other relaxation techniques suggest the mind can enhance immunity against cancer. Deep breathing is a common aspect of relaxation training and probably promotes immune function. By raising the brain's oxygen uptake, deep regular breathing can help people release worry, anger and resentment (Mehl L, Mind and Matter, Mindbody Press; 1986: 196).

Burton Goldberg

Extracted with permission from An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer, by Drs W John Diamond and Lee Cowden, with Burton Goldberg. ($49.95 from Future Medical Publishing, 1640 Tiburn Boulevard, Suite 2, Tiburon, CA 94920.) For more information on alternative treatments for cancer, WDDTY now has available the nine tapes of the Surviving Cancer Conference. For more details, ring: 0171-354 4592.